Last month, Law Officer launched Project Inspire II, an effort to help out Macon County, Tenn., after a violent tornado devastated the area in February and overwhelmed public safety resources. A number of law-enforcement vendors stepped up and donated equipment and services to the county as part of the effort.
During the first week of February, a series of storms swept across the nation, spawning more than 70 tornados that spun across large sections of 10 states. Several dozen people were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands of structures were destroyed or damaged. Macon County, a rural community in central Tennessee, was one of the hardest hit.
The tornado that ravaged Macon County cut an unusually long swath across the region and left horrific damage in its wake. Initially, more than 200 people were reported missing, throwing the community into panic. Every emergency worker in the area responded, working tirelessly throughout the night in the midst of driving rain, debris and downed power lines. President Bush even visited there in the aftermath, saying, “If they’re just given a little help, they’ll come back stronger.”
The original Project Inspire was organized to help law enforcement agencies affected by Hurricane Katrina. The response was so positive and well received that we wanted to see if we could take on another project to help out those who give so much to their communities, especially during times of crisis.
I contacted Lieutenant Bill Cothran at Macon County Sheriff’s Department, the primary law enforcement agency for the region, and learned the need was great. Funding had always been a challenge, and Cothran told me the storm had really taxed the department’s personnel; he would welcome any assistance. We contacted some vendors and asked if they would help by donating equipment to encourage the devastated community and its law officers.
Many great companies responded and offered to assist. Cothran became key to the success of Project Inspire II, serving as the primary contact and logistical coordinator for our effort. Soon, equipment began arriving—uniforms, boots, warm jackets and a bunch of survival knives came in right off the bat. The department’s small detective section was turned into a miniature warehouse. Before it was over, more than $30,000 worth of equipment had poured into Macon County.
On March 8, I drove in Macon County for after flying into Nashville and met with Cothran. It had only been a month since the twister struck, and we spent the next several hours touring the damaged area as Cothran explained what had taken place. During our ride, he got a couple of calls regarding an ongoing death investigation and the progress of a search for a runaway 14-year-old girl, poignant reminders that the regular police work must continue even when Mother Nature deals a crippling blow.
Speaking of Mother Nature, the temperature dropped well into the 20s that evening and began snowing, something that seldom happens any time of year in Macon County, let alone in March. When I got up the next morning, about five inches of white powder blanketed the area.
Somehow the snow lent a surreal beauty to the devastated area. Even structures that had been destroyed were briefly covered by the white fluffy snow. It didn’t take long for the kids to take advantage of the snowfall—makeshift sleds were everywhere. Also readily visible were the warm jackets donated by the Blauer Corporation; they had come in just 48 hours before the snow, and I didn’t see a single deputy without one.
On Saturday evening, we gathered at the local school auditorium for a showing of World Trade Center, a story based on the true story of two NYNJ Port Authority police officers. One of those officers, Will Jimeno, is a long-time friend and joined the group via a live video feed after the showing. The encouraging story of Jimeno’s survival in the midst of disaster and his road to recovery meant a great deal to those in attendance.
Some very nice door prizes were given away at the function, including a high-end GPS unit from Panasonic and an original watercolor painting by a renowned Southern California painter who had heard about the Project Inspire effort.
The next day, I left the small community knowing we’d made a small contribution to their recovery effort, but that they had a long road ahead. They are a wonderful bunch of people who are doing an awesome job.
The following vendors supported Project Inspire II with generous donations to Macon County:
Del Real Art
Gould and Goodrich
Laura Burgess LLC